PARIS – The United Nations' cultural agency decided Wednesday to add the historic center of Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa to its list of endangered World Heritage sites, recognizing “the outstanding universal value of the site and the duty of all humanity to protect it.”
The decision was made at an extraordinary session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in Paris.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay praised the move, saying the “legendary port that has left its mark in cinema, literature and the arts” was “thus placed under the reinforced protection of the international community."
“While the war is going on, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city ... is preserved from further destruction," Azoulay added in a statement.
Russian forces have launched multiple artillery attacks and airstrikes on Odesa since invading Ukraine 11 months ago.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on UNESCO in October to put Odesa on its World Heritage List, which recognizes places of “outstanding universal value.” The World Heritage Committee agreed Wednesday while also adding the city's historic center to its list of endangered sites.
Changes to the text proposed by Russia delayed the 21-member committee's vote. In the end, six delegates voted in favor, one voted no and 14 abstained.
Russian delegate Tatiana Dovgalenko lambasted the decision, asserting that local citizens had destroyed some Odesa monuments that were cited to justify the endangered designation.
“Today, we witnessed the funeral of the World Heritage Convention,” she said, adding that pressure prevailed and scientific objectivity “was shamefully violated.”
Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko welcomed the vote's outcome, saying it would protect Odesa’s multicultural history.
“It’s a great historic day," he told reporters. "Definitively, Odesa is under danger due to Russia's full- scale invasion. ... I have very much hope that the umbrella of UNESCO can protect at least Odesa skies and Odesa itself from this barbaric attack of Russians.”
Ukraine is not a member of the UNESCO committee.
Under the 1972 UNESCO convention, ratified by both Ukraine and Russia, signatories undertake to “assist in the protection of the listed sites” and are “obliged to refrain from taking any deliberate measures” which might damage World Heritage sites.
Inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger is meant to “open access to emergency international assistance mechanisms, both technical and financial, to strengthen the protection of the property and help its rehabilitation,” according to UNESCO.
Before Wednesday's vote, Ukraine was home to seven World Heritage sites, including the St. Sophia Cathedral and related monastic buildings in the capital, Kyiv. To date, none were damaged by the war, although UNESCO noted damage to more than 230 cultural buildings in Ukraine.
Azoulay told reporters that Odesa’s status was examined under an “emergency procedure” amid the ongoing fighting. She said “precise satellite surveillance” was being used for the first time to monitor Ukraine's World Heritage sites.
On its website, UNESCO describes Odesa as the only city in Ukraine that has entirely preserved the urban structure of a multinational southern port town typical of the late 18th and-19th centuries.
Two other sites were Wednesday to the List of World Heritage in Danger: the Ancient Yemenite Kingdom of Saba and the Rachid Karami International Fair in Tripoli, Lebanon.
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